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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

"Unacceptable" Tory record on young mental health

The doubling number of young people admitted to A&E with psychiatric conditions over the last five years is unacceptable - Norman Lamb

The Liberal Democrats have today called for the Government to stick to its commitment of extra investment in children and young people’s mental health services after the number of A&E admissions with psychiatric conditions have soared. A total of 14,917 children and young people with psychiatric conditions were admitted in 2014 -2015, this compares to 6,950 in 2010 -2011.

During the Tory/Lib Dem coalition the Liberal Democrats say they secured £1.25bn of new funding to transform children and young people’s mental health services. This amounts to around £250 million in every year of the current parliament – but the Government has only allocated £143 million in this financial year 2015-16.

Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb said: "These are deeply shocking figures which expose the true scale of the mental health challenge facing young people in this country."

Criticising the current government Mr Lamb said: "The Government is failing to support children and young people by not delivering the investment that was agreed before the General Election. In March 2015, Nick Clegg and I announced £1.25 billion to be spent over five years on improving young people’s mental health services, but the Government has already underspent by £107 million in the first year."

Continuing  Mr Lamb said: "This is unacceptable, and these latest figures show the need for urgent investment in preventative services and community care to stop young people from reaching crisis point. It also shows the absolute need to introduce the same right to get treatment on a timely basis for children and young people suffering mental ill health as others enjoy."

"I am calling on the Government to make up the shortfall immediately, and to deliver on its promise to provide the full £1.25bn over the next five years." Norman Lamb added.

Greens urge BBC to reverse decision to exclude them

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) has written to the BBC to urge the public broadcaster to urgently re-consider its ruling not to grant the Green Party a Party Political Broadcast (PPB) in England in 2016 after almost 25,000 have signed a petition calling for the BBC to include the Greens. The Green Party has responded to the BBC Chief Advisors’ comments to the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee. The Committee will meet this month to review the Greens’ appeal against the decision by the BBC Executive not to allocate a PPB to GPEW in England.

In a letter to the BBC Trust, Nick Martin, CEO of the Green Party of England and Wales, urged the Committee to re-consider chiefly on the grounds that the Party has, in the course of extensive correspondence, demonstrated substantial levels of past and current electoral support across election types.

Amelia Womack, Green Party Deputy Leader, who, alongside Deputy Leader Shahrar Ali, handed in an appeal letter to the BBC Trust last week said: "The BBC simply must reverse this decision that means over a million people will not be given the opportunity to hear from the party they voted for at the General Election. We are calling on our public broadcaster to aknowledge that the Green Party is a defining feature on what they recognise to be a ‘changed political landscape’. Without this decision being reversed we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy about who represents us in politics."

Shahrar Ali said: "It is increasingly unacceptable for our public broadcaster to freeze the Greens out of the political debate. To honour its duty of impartiality, the BBC must re-consider its decision to exclude the Greens’ unique voice."

Underlining the growing support for the Party over the past two electoral cycles, Nick Martin noted that, in the 2015 General Election, the Party increased its overall share of the vote in England by four times and retained deposits in more than 120 seats compared to 6 in 2010.

Mr Martin added: "The GPEW contends that the huge discrepancy between votes and seats won should be reflected more fully to produce a fair allocation of the PPB’s and that fairness should be reflected in an allocation of PPB’s to the GPEW. The scale of the discrepancy is indeed remarkable – at the General Election of 2015 it took 34 times more GPEW votes than Conservative votes to elect an MP, and 29 times more GPEW votes than Labour votes to elect an MP."

In the letter, Nick Martin expressed Greens’ concerns that too much weighting has been assigned to parliamentary by-elections which "should have a very low weight because the seats that are contested between Parliaments are unrepresentative of the country as a whole."

Lib Dems warn average house prices will top £1m

Young graduates face a bleak housing future as Liberal Democrat research shows the average house price will top £1m within 16 years. The research shows that someone leaving University today will face a massive challenge on getting onto the first rung of the property ladder. The average property price in the UK will reach £650,000 within a decade, an increase of £360,000 on today’s average price.

The research is released ahead of the Liberal Democrat opposition day debate, this afternoon, in Parliament on the ‘State of the nation’s housing market’. Liberal Democrat research shows that the gap between the amount people can borrow on average through a mortgage and house prices is widening. Most starkly in London the gap between how much can be borrowed and property prices will reach £1.5m by 2026 in the capital.

In response to this crisis the Liberal Democrats, in the Commons, say they will propose a plan to try and help by:
  • Allowing councils to build more houses through lifting the current arbitrary cap on council borrowing.
  • Encouraging a massive increase in house building to 300,000 per annum by setting out a long-term housing plan for the next 20-30 years - something the government has failed to do.
  • Building 10 New Garden Cities including 5 in the South East.

Ahead of the debate on the Liberal Democrat proposals, party leader, Tim Farron said: "Everyone deserves a decent home to call their own. The aspirational and entrepreneurial classes are seeing the ladder of home ownership kicked away from under them. The Government’s schemes are merely a poor sticking plaster. We have laid out a plan to help. We need radical, ambitious action to deliver the homes we need. The only answers are found in big solutions - new garden cities, allowing councils to build housing stock, and bring thousands of empty homes back into use."

"It is time for the Government to stop tinkering around the edges of the problem and actually get to work tackling this crisis." Mr Farron added.

Expert commission backs Lib Dem calls to abolish out of area mental health placements

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb’s call to end the scandal of mental health patients being shunted across the country has received the backing of a landmark report on acute psychiatric care.

The Commission on Acute Adult Psychiatric Care, led by Lord Crisp, was set up by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in response to concerns about the provision of services for people with severe mental illness. Its report found that there are “major problems both in admissions to psychiatric wards and in providing alternative care and treatment in the community”.

One of the Commission’s key recommendations is that the practice of sending acutely ill patients long distances for non-specialist mental health treatment is phased out by October 2017, following months of campaigning by the Liberal Democrats.

Norman Lamb previously led a House of Commons debate in November to highlight the scandal of out-of-area placements, and challenged the Government to commit to ending the practice completely within 12 months. The Government pledged at the time to make a recommendation based on the findings of Lord Crisp’s Commission, which reported today.

Official figures suggest that each month around 500 mental ill patients have to travel over 50km away from their home to a hospital bed. The report concluded that these long distances “are mainly due to difficulties in finding acute inpatient beds or suitable alternative services in their home area, and are a symptom of far more widespread problems in the functioning of the whole mental health system.”

Commenting on the new report, Norman Lamb said: "I am delighted with the recommendation of ending the scandal of out of area placements. The Government has already committed to taking a view based on the findings of this Commission, and I now urge the minister to commit to ending this outrageous practice."

Mr Lamb criticising the current system said: "Being sent out-of-area during a mental health crisis – sometimes hundreds of miles away from family and friends – can cause unimaginable distress. We also know that being treated out-of-area raises the risk of suicide after being discharged from hospital. There is simply no excuse for allowing this to continue."

"This practice would never be tolerated in physical health services. It is an example of the total discrimination at the heart of our NHS, and one of the many examples of how people who suffer from acute mental ill health are disadvantaged by the system." Norman Lamb added.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Lib Dems propose shake up of school inspections

The Liberal Democrats are calling for changes to school inspection regimes, to give teachers and schools ground-breaking new powers to challenge the outcome of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspections.

In 2012 Ofsted prepared for their current framework for inspections after piloting a series of inspections across the country. The most controversial change was the new system relabelled the "Satisfactory" category as "Requires Improvement", with an expectation that schools should not remain at that level.

Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson, John Pugh, will introduce a Bill on Tuesday which aims to replace current inspections with a new system which encourages improvement and support. Ofsted currently has more than a thousand permanent employees and a budget which costs the taxpayer £153 million every year. 

The Liberal Democrats say they believe that teachers and schools should be held to the highest standard. However it is only fair that they are properly listened to as part of the inspection process.

Under these proposals, the outcome and recommendations from an inspection should be jointly agreed by both the inspector and the school. When this isn't possible because the school disagrees strongly, it should have its response included in a section of the final report which is made public.

Commenting on his Bill, John Pugh said: "Ofsted does a good job but sometimes we all get things wrong. The problem at the moment is that when that happens, schools’ reputations can be ruined and hardworking teachers can see their careers go up in flames. Inspection has a valuable role in education but the way we do things currently is far too burdensome and bureaucratic."

"Many of the countries who exceed the UK in performance, like Finland have a quite different approach to driving up school standards and we should learn from them." John Pugh added.

Lib Dems and Labour blast 'shockingly poor' Tory record on smart ticketing in the North

Just one per cent of railway stations fitted with smart ticketing readers are in the North, new figures have revealed. The news comes as Transport for North (TfN) said today that plans for an "oyster for the North", dubbed the noyster, smartcard announced just last year, were being dropped. TfN also say that alternative contactless and mobile payment systems still require access to smart-ticket readers, which needs to be put in place.

Liberal Democrat Transport Spokesperson Baroness Jenny Randerson criticised the Government's abandonment of the noyster card scheme and failure to implement smart ticketing saying: "The six month gap between announcement and abandonment of this policy, is not even long enough for Government to have glanced over proposals for Oyster Cards for the North. Better public transport is fundamental to the success of the Northern Powerhouse and smart ticketing systems are a key part of making travelling more convenient for people."

Labour have also attacked Tory Ministers saying they had made “shockingly poor progress” on extending London-style smart-ticketing technology outside the South East. The Department for Transport pledged to introduce "oyster-style smart travel cards and simpler fares across the north." Of the 710 stations fitted with smart-ticket readers, 8 were in the North. A further 69 were in the Midlands. The great majority – 633, or 89 per cent of the total – are in the South, and the overwhelming majority are in London and the South East.

Shadow Transport Secretary Lilian Greenwood, who uncovered the station figures, said: "For all the Tory Government’s talk about leading a smart ticketing revolution, these figures demonstrate the huge regional disparities that expose George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ and ‘Midlands Engine’ rhetoric for the sham it really is. There is no good reason why commuters in the Midlands and the North shouldn’t have access to the same facilities as passengers in the South. Ministers have had six years to address this problem, but they have made shockingly poor progress."

Attacking the Tory record on rail in general Ms Greenwood said: "Passengers in the North have already been hit by stealth fare rises of up to 162 per cent but they continue to lag far behind when it comes to allocating investment. These figures show just how far the Tory Government has to go, and they cast real doubt on Ministers’ ability to introduce the part-time season tickets that they promised to implement in May last year."

Osborne's inflexibility means tax rises or more cuts

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) is warning that George Osborne's "inflexible" pledge to run a budget surplus "in normal times" from 2019-20 was simple but would require a "precarious balancing act". The result is likely to be "big tax rises or spending cuts with very little notice", the IFS concluded. The IFS publishes its annual Green Budget document ahead of the Chancellor's Budget every year, which is highlighting economic conditions and the challenges that will facing the Chancellor, George Osborne as he prepares his 16th March budget.

The Independent Economic Think Tank has concluded that Mr Osborne's target of a balancing the UK's books by 2019-20 is "inflexible" and could have tax and spending implications were he to receive "unfavourable" economic and fiscal forecasts. Only 4 days ago the Bank of England, in its latest Inflation Report, cut its forecast for growth this year to 2.2%. In November it had predicted growth of 2.5%. The IFS also points out that the UK government has only run a surplus eight times in the last 60 years.

The IFS say that George Osborne's "rule has the merit of simplicity and transparency but is very inflexible and this could come at a cost," the Green Budget continues: "Even if the chancellor gets to the March 2019 Budget with his plans intact, past errors in official forecasts suggest that there would be more than a one-in-four chance that he would need to implement in-year tax rises or spending cuts to deliver a budget surplus in 2019-20."

Alongside a budget surplus the Chancellor still has a programme of promised income tax cuts to deliver, which were promised by the Tories at general election, a promise that will cost £8bn a year and which is currently unfunded. faced uncertainty over what the Treasury might receive in tax, and needed to maintain a squeeze on government spending.

Responding to the Institute for Fiscal Studies ‘Green Budget’ Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Susan Kramer said: "The IFS has confirmed that George Osborne's arbitrary spending surplus is increasingly likely to mean more cuts or tax rises which will hurt the public. His surplus target was a political decision designed to help make him Prime Minister. It has backfired and it is a dereliction of his duty as Chancellor for him to damage our economy for his own ends."

Susan Krammer called on George Osborne to change course: "Rather than playing silly games with the country’s finances he needs to abandon this target and take advantage of the historically low interest rates to find the capital spending in housing and digital infrastructure we desperately need to build an economy fit for the future.”